Thinking Biblically About Homosexuality, Part 1

Note: This article series was previously posted on SharperIron and has been updated and revised.

by Aaron Blumer

A True Story

Once there were two boys. We’ll call them Bob and Jim. They both grew up in Bible-believing, fundamentalist homes and had good Christian upbringing. They both had fathers who were somewhat blumer_perhaps.gifdistant and critical but honest, hardworking, and—in their own way—loving. Both boys also believed the gospel at an early age and served the Lord.

But as they reached adulthood, something happened to one that did not happen to the other. Bob began to feel sexually attracted to people of his own gender. He didn’t approve of what he felt. Indeed, he was deeply ashamed of his desires and wished they would go away. How had he become a “pervert”?

Jim, on the other hand, felt only the usual attraction to females.

The Problem

This story is true and not as unusual as many would like to believe. Committed Christian men experience same-sex attractions and want to know how they got the way they are and what they should do about it. Sadly, they do not find biblical Fundamentalism speaking with a clear voice on these matters.

Most who claim to take the Bible seriously have one of two attitudes toward this issue. Some apparently feel that unwilling same-sex attractions simply don’t exist. In their view, homosexuals are just perverts who decided to be perverts, and it’s that simple. Another attitude is that someone who experiences same-sex attraction may not have knowingly chosen that path but is, nonetheless, in a particularly depraved moral condition he must act urgently to remedy. (An example of the latter appeared in the January 2007 issue of the NANC newsletter. See Effective Counseling for Christians Tempted by Homosexuality (PDF download) by John Street.)

In this view, the believer should not consider himself successful until episodes of same-sex attraction are completely gone from his life, replaced by a normal, healthy attraction to the opposite sex. In other words, he’s a pervert until he becomes, in popular parlance, “straight.” Those with this perspective have varying opinions about how people who feel unwanted same-sex attractions got into their predicament. Some point to familial factors, such as bad dads. Others emphasize sinful responses to painful events of life. Most probably believe a combination of these factors is possible or even likely.

But might there be other explanations for unasked-for same-sex attraction and other strategies for dealing with it? Perhaps Bible-believing people have mixed and matched biblical principles with cultural assumptions and arrived at views on homosexuality that are both culturally unpopular and unbiblical. Does Scripture teach that same-sex attraction reveals a deeper level of depravity than other desires do, such as opposite-sex lust, greed, pride, or malice? Does Scripture deny that some could face same-sex temptations through no particular fault of their own? And can we, with the authority of Scripture, deny that some people who experience same-sex attractions do so because they have a defect with no greater spiritual or moral significance than being born with one arm or a cleft palate?

Before I explore these questions, let me be clear that I believe Scripture forbids homosexual indulgence of both body and mind and warns of dire consequences for those who are involved in it. These principles are not in dispute here. But the question of what one does is not the same as the question of what one feels like doing. Some allege that the distinction between the homosexual condition and homosexual conduct was invented in order to “appease” those with modern psychological views (John Street, Effective Counseling for Christians Tempted by Homosexuality, p. 3). However, if Scripture is our authority, we must carefully look at what is written and what is not and conclude with finality only what the Word allows us to conclude.

As an aid to study, I have included Strong’s Concordance numbers for important words. These numbers are indicated by the letter s, as in s.1100.

The Biblical Data

Two sets of data are most vital for this study: (1) What the Bible teaches specifically about homosexuality and (2) What it teaches about depravity and sanctification. In this article, we focus on the first set of data.

Old Testament Evidence

We’re all familiar with the negative portrayal of homosexual behavior in the story of Sodom (Gen. 18-19). Judges 19:22-25 records a similar incident during that period involving a traveling Levite and the men of Gibeah. In addition, the covenant law forbids a man to lie with a man, calls it “abomination,” and sentences offenders to death (Lev. 18:22, 20:13).

These passages are clear in what they forbid, but they refer only to homosexual behavior and only outward behavior at that. In the cases of Sodom and Gibeah, what is involved is not only homosexual activity but also gang rape. We cannot conclude from these passages that every man who feels attraction to another man is more spiritually and morally degenerate than the rest of us, particularly if he resists the impulse. And these passages contribute nothing to the question of how someone with same-sex attraction came to be that way.

But there is additional Old Testament evidence to consider. The New King James Version contains several references to “perverted” people (KJV, “sodomites”). Do these terms imply a unique moral condition? Two of the references in question (Judg. 19:22, 20:13) merely translate the Hebrew “sons of belial” (s.1100), a general term for lowlifes. The rest translate the Hebrew qadeshim (s.6945, from a root associated with worship), and they refer to homosexual temple prostitutes (see Brown, Driver & Briggs). Deuteronomy 23:17 forbids the Israelites from choosing prostitution as a career, and four references in the histories of the kings refer to efforts to rid the land of prostitutes (1 Kings 14:24, 15:12, 22:46, and 2 Kings 23:7). Though these homosexual temple prostitutes were probably more depraved than the average sinner, nothing in these references allows us to generalize about the condition of every person who experiences same-sex attraction.

New Testament Evidence

When we turn to the New Testament, we also find several references to homosexual activity that reveal little about the desires that precede it. For example, 1 Corinthians 6:9 lists “abusers of themselves with mankind” (arsenokoitai, s.733) among the unrighteous, and 1 Timothy 1:10 includes “them that defile themselves with mankind” (also arsenokoitai) among the things contrary to sound doctrine. The references to Sodom in Jude 6-8 also refer to immoral conduct.

But some other words and phrases call for a closer look. Do expressions like “effeminate” (1 Cor. 6:9), “vile affections” (Rom. 1:26), and “reprobate mind” (Rom. 1:28) suggest a state of unusually twisted moral fiber? So what do these passages tell us about the condition of same-sex attraction, and what should be done about it?

The English word “effeminate” in 1 Corinthians 6:9 gives the wrong impression. Malachos (s.3120) literally means “soft or fine.” In Luke 7:25, it refers to expensive clothing. But when used of people, it indicates either catamites, males involved passively in homosexual immorality (BAGD, NKJV marginal note), or male prostitutes (NIV). What we have here is another reference to conduct and not condemnation of a condition.

Romans 1

The extended discussion of homosexuality in Romans 1:26-28 requires careful analysis. “Vile affections,” “lust,” and “reprobate mind” clearly refer to the moral condition, the inner man, of the people involved. They also seem to lead inevitably to active homosexual immorality. But this relationship does not prove what many have concluded.

First, what are “vile affections”? Do these words describe an evil condition of heart that always, and only, afflicts homosexuals? The expression translates two ordinary Greek words: pathos (desire, s.3806) and atimia (shameful or dishonorable, s.819). Pathos is always used negatively in the New Testament but refers to evil desire in a general sense in Colossians 3:5 and 1 Thessalonians 4:5 and was used in Christian literature of the first century in a completely nonsexual sense (see BAGD). Atimia, also a common word, was used in a variety of ways, such as vessels with “dishonorable” purposes (Rom. 9:21). So when Paul refers to pathe atimia here, he simply means these people desired to do shameful deeds. The context describes a particular form of shameful deed, but the phrase pathe atimias does not tell us there is a special spiritual disease of the affections that uniquely afflicts those who feel same-sex attraction.

Second, who is Paul talking about in Romans 1:26-28? The context describes a sequence of events in which God abandoned people to their desires as a form of judgment. The sequence begins at 1:18 where Paul refers to people who suppressed the truth because of their unrighteousness and, as a result, incurred God’s “wrath.” Verses 19-23 show that they knew much about God but rejected that knowledge in favor of idolatry. God then gave them over to uncleanness and lusts (1:24) and desires to do what is dishonorable (pathe atimias, 1:26). Homosexual immorality ensued (1:26-27). Finally, (1:28) God gave them over to a “reprobate mind” (adokimos, disqualified or debased s.96), but He did so for a specific reason: “they did not like to retain God in their knowledge”—in other words, they did not see fit to acknowledge God.

Since the context specifies God-rejecting idolaters, Romans 1:26-28 should not be applied to believers at all. It is likely that Sodom (and later Gibeah) followed the Romans 1 pattern, and most of the practicing homosexuals of our own time probably “got the way they are” by this general sequence of events also. But like the other texts we’ve explored, Romans 1 does not warrant the conclusion that everyone who experiences same-sex attraction must be morally (or spiritually) degenerate in a way that is unlike the general population of sinners.

Conclusions

As far as Scriptures about homosexuality are concerned, we have none in the Old or New Testament that say a particular spiritual or moral condition gives rise to same-sex attraction in every case. While we have evidence in Romans that homosexual behavior can be the outcome of a series of steps away from God, we are not told that all who arrive at “point B” reach it by way of “road A.” Most significantly, when we search the Bible, we find no evidence that any particular cause of same-sex attraction is not possible. Nothing is ruled out.

So let’s return to my original set of questions. Does the Bible deny that some could experience same-sex temptations through no particular fault of their own? Does it teach that same-sex attraction arises from more serious moral or spiritual corruption than other evil desires such as heterosexual lust, greed, or pride? So far, the answer to both questions is no.

But a more complete answer to these questions requires that we look at the Bible’s teachings regarding depravity and sanctification. These teachings address many questions. What is it that makes evil desire evil in the first place? What relationship do “natural” and “unnatural” have to “holy” and “unholy”? Are some evil desires worse than others? And if so, what makes them worse? What do the particular sins each of us finds tempting reveal about our spiritual condition? And do the answers to these questions help us know whether the capacity for homosexual temptation could be, for some, a condition they were born with?

I cannot promise satisfying answers to all of these questions. But I do believe they must be pursued and discussed in a thoughtful way as I attempt to do in Part 2. Whether there are many or relatively few “Bobs” among us, they are fellow believers in search of answers. We who are called to help them must give them the right answers if we can.

blumerandson1.jpgAaron Blumer, a native of lower Michigan, is a graduate of Bob Jones University (Greenville, SC) and Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). He, his wife, and their two children live in a small town in western Wisconsin where he has pastored Grace Baptist Church (Boyceville, WI) since 2000. Prior to serving as a pastor, Aaron taught school in Stone Mountain, Georgia, and served in customer service and technical support for Unisys Corporation (Eagan, MN). He enjoys science fiction, music, and dabbling in software engineering.
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